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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — COVID-19 continues to affect us as we try to work and learn from home.

The dash for devices is putting a strain on parents and professionals as the supply and demand impacts today’s technology industry.

The IT department for Kansas City Public Schools is working to get a tablet or laptop, and a hotspot, in the hands of every single student.

“Instead of three years to get the rest of this done, we’ve really done it in about three months,” IT Director Joe Phillips said.

Phillips is referring to a five-year technology advancement plan he said was already underway, two years into the process. The pandemic has accelerated the district’s strategy for individual distribution.

Philips said last month, KCPS placed an order with Dell for 7,500 Chromebooks but learned the devices wouldn’t have been shipped until November. The district has since switched to another supplier, HP, but even then the delivery will be delayed. 

“These challenges are happening all over the country and even all over the world: going to a one-to-one, take-home environment, trying to get hotspots into our inventory, trying to get Chromebooks into our inventory,” Phillips said as he described monthly meetings he has had with CIOs in districts across the nation. 

Inventory is stretched everywhere: big box stores, online order, local shops. Computer Pros Inc in the Northland has seen its repair business increase by almost 50% since the spring.

“People are repairing machines that they hadn’t fired up in months or years,” owner Alex Berry said. “They’re scrambling to get machines that are clean and working and operating correctly.”

Berry explained many of the older models don’t have built-in webcams either, which has made those a hot commodity.

“They flew off the shelves, and trying to keep them in stock was almost impossible,” he said about webcams during the first few weeks of stay-at-home orders. “We had to turn down probably 5-10 people a day. They were just impossible to get ahold of unless you wanted to order one from China and wait 4-5 weeks.”

In an effort to update programs and confirm inventory, KCPS has posted the following information, urging families to temporarily return previously issued devices:

“If you or your child have a KCPS-issued Chromebook laptop computer, please plan to return it at one of the following collection opportunities hosted by our IT Department.

11 a.m. to 7 p.m., July 22

  • Central High School (3221 Indiana Ave.)
  • East High School (1924 Van Brunt Blvd.)
  • Hale Cook Elementary School (7302 Pennsylvania Ave.)
  • Northeast Middle School (4904 Independence Ave.)
  • Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts (4747 Flora Ave.)
  • Southeast High School (3500 E. Meyer Blvd.)

2 to 7 p.m. Thursday, July 23

  • Pitcher Elementary School (9915 E. 38th Terr.)

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday (ongoing)

  • KCPS BOE Building (2901 Troost Ave.)

“Please note that students who are currently using KCPS-issued Chromebooks for summer school can continue to use those devices until the end of the course session.

“It is very important that these devices be returned so that they can be prepared for use by students during the 2020-2021 school year. If you have any questions or are unable to return a KCPS-issued Chromebook for some reason, please call our IT HelpDesk at (816) 418-4357.”